Must read: Following Dallas DA's death, 19 convictions are undone

DALLAS - As district attorney of Dallas for an unprecedented 36 years, Henry Wade was the embodiment of Texas justice.

A strapping 6-footer with a square jaw and a half-chewed cigar clamped between his teeth, The Chief, as he was known, prosecuted Jack Ruby. He was the Wade in Roe v. Wade. And he compiled a conviction rate so impressive that defense attorneys ruefully called themselves the 7 Percent Club.

But now, seven years after Wade's death, The Chief's legacy is taking a beating.

Nineteen convictions - three for murder and the rest involving rape or burglary - won by Wade and two successors who trained under him have been overturned after DNA evidence exonerated the defendants. About 250 more cases are under review.

No other county in America - and almost no state, for that matter - has freed more innocent people from prison in recent years than Dallas County, where Wade was DA from 1951 through 1986.

Current District Attorney Craig Watkins, who in 2006 became the first black elected chief prosecutor in any Texas county, said that more wrongly convicted people will go free.

'There was a cowboy kind of mentality and the reality is that kind of approach is archaic, racist, elitist and arrogant,' said Watkins, who is 40 and never worked for Wade or met him.

But some of those who knew Wade said the truth is more complicated than Watkins' summation.

'My father was not a racist. He didn't have a racist bone in his body,' said Kim Wade, a lawyer in his own right. 'He was very competitive.'

Moreover, former colleagues - and even the Innocence Project of Texas, which is spearheading the DNA tests - credit Wade with preserving the evidence in every case, a practice that allowed investigations to be reopened and inmates to be freed.

His critics said, of course, that he kept the evidence for possible use in further prosecutions, not to help defendants.